Friday, January 09, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 4 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

Decisions, decisions, decisions:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 

But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)

"To live is Christ" Small wonder that Paul could rejoice when even his opponents preached the gospel. Serving his Lord was Paul's life.  Once can see in him the character of the bond-slave:

"Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? 

But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'? 

He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" (Luke 17:7-10)

"To die is gain." Paul has run his race is ready to see his Master. That is the great good that he desires.

But Paul is good at what he does. If he remains, there will be more who will come to believe in the Messiah. If he remains, there will be more lives corrected, encouraged and strengthened. His work is not finished, and so Paul knows that he will remain on earth.

Now that he knows not to write a farewell letter, Paul begins to instruct the Philippians concerning what it means to live the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Philippians 1:27-30)

"Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." For reasons that I cannot fathom, except as it confirms Scripture, the good news of Jesus Christ is an offensive message. Over the decades of my life, I have seen secular forces come to power in the USA and press their agenda to remove the Christian message and culture. We have opponents and they are getting stronger all the time. Those forces and the Bible tell us that we have an offensive message. It was the same in Paul's day and his advice is to:

  • Standing firm -- We have to have a clear head about those who oppose us and stand firm in "one spirit" and "one mind" with a focus on the gospel message and enlarging the community of faith. For today this presents another love-knowledge-discernment issue. Do we strive to reclaim the Christian roots of the USA or do we rally around our message and keep slogging forward no matter how dangerous it gets? At what point to we recognize that we have never been citizens of any nation except the one that is coming?
  • That we have opponents is a signal that we are getting the message out and that we are a force in the world. It does not matter how we are slandered in the press, if we did not have an effective message, our opponents would leave us alone. That we have opponents is a positive sign and should be a great encouragement to us. When you find yourself fretting about the growing opposition, be careful not to be alarmed. Seek the strength from the Holy Spirit and pray for increased boldness.

"For to you it has been granted for Christ's save, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer..." Look at the growing opposition, remember that it is far worse in other parts of the world, and accept it as a gift. "For to you it has been granted ... to suffer." Paul sees it as a gift and so have generations of believers since his day. Jesus spoke of this:

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:10-16)

Note that I have kept the salt and light verses in the context of persecution. Look at how Paul, in Philippians, has rejoiced that his imprisonment has meant a greater spread of the gospel. That is salt, that is light.

That opposition is mounting signals a coming time of greatness for the Church on earth. Let us by the Holy Spirit rise to the challenge.

No post on Monday.

Tuesday: Christianity with an Attitude.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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